Class and caste inequalities, and production of city space in india

Vakulabharanam, Vamsicharan (1); motiram, sripad (2) (2018). 'Class and Caste Inequalities, and Production of City Space in India' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


In this paper, we show how space is produced through social cleavages like class, caste and religion by focusing on the Indian context. Existing publicly available sources of secondary data impose severe limitations on any attempt to incorporate space into meaningful analyses of Indian cities. For example, the widely used National Sample Survey database does not contain information on spatial units within cities. While the decennial Census does contain such information for some variables (e.g. literacy), other key variables (e.g. income, detailed caste groups) are absent. We therefore rely on a spatially representative city sample survey that we designed and administered in the cities of Hyderabad and Mumbai. This survey overcomes some of the limitations (mentioned above) of existing publicly available data on Indian cities. It also allows us to contrast two different kinds of cities. Mumbai is one of the largest cities in the world (a “mega city”) that is considered to be the financial capital of India. Hyderabad is a relatively smaller city (but still a large, “million-plus” city) that has seen tremendous growth in recent times, particularly in sectors like information technology and financial services.


We develop a class-analytic framework that groups inhabitants of cities into different classes. This framework incorporates some prominent features of cities in the developing world, most notably, informality. We conduct an inequality decomposition analysis of the data from Hyderabad and Mumbai cities. In such an analysis, the share of the total inequality contributed by the “between” component can be interpreted as the inequality among subgroups of the population (e.g. classes, castes, or spatial units). Our key findings are as follows. First, class explains a substantial proportion of income inequality. Second, space itself explains a considerable proportion of income inequality. Third, we document different notions of city space, and their interactions with the social cleavages discussed above. Fourth, and what we believe is a fundamental finding, is that while urban inequalities are stark and rising, spatial co-existence of various groups (e.g. castes, classes, formal and informal production) is also pronounced. We call this co-existence “grayness”. Grayness is much greater for Indian cities than it is for cities in the developed world, and in this sense, Indian cities are less segregated spatially. We hypothesize that this is both due to the layered historical process that these cities have gone through, and the particular nature of development in India (and more broadly in the developing world) that produces further layering.


The capability approach and its applications have been very insightful in the conceptualization and analysis of poverty, deprivation, inequality and exclusion. However, space has received inadequate attention in studies inspired by this approach. This is despite the fact that many social scientists (including Amartya Sen) have highlighted the implications of space for outcomes on many fronts. By focusing on India, we demonstrate that the explicit analysis of space provides a deeper insight into the process of development. In urban India while contributing to higher inequality, development has simultaneously attempted to decimate grayness, and thereby increase segregation.

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